As I always do I spend the last day of the year looking forward to the next year with some hopes and dreams.
Getting Back Up
Regular readers know this last part of 2021 has caused me to change some things here at Colognoisseur. Much of that has been because of things outside the world of fragrance. I really hope that I can find an equilibrium between my life and Colognoisseur in 2022. I’m going to try and channel legendary coach Vince Lombardi, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” For the first time in the history of this column it is up to me to make this happen.
One thing 2021 showed me was imaginative creative directors and perfumers don’t have to be bound by the past. This year past saw wonderful new ways of thinking about ingredients like oud and vanilla. I hope this same sense of adventure can expand to other ingredients. Maybe patchouli and tobacco could be the focal points for 2022.
One of These with a Perfume Topic
This year saw a greater use of teleconferences. It seemingly evolved every month. I would really like to see some of the big perfume organizations convene expert panels using this technology. Offering the opportunity to hear from the smartest communicators in perfumery would be a wonderful experience.
One other thing I would like to see is for the evaluators to get some credit. Most perfume brands use an evaluator as an indispensable part of the creative process. I’ve loved giving the creative directors and perfumers credit. It is past time for the evaluators to step out from the shadows.
Finally, my everlasting thanks for stopping by to read this blog the past year. The reason I’m trying to get my feet back under me is because I don’t want to let you down. Happy New Year!
To begin with the context of the list, I tried 621 new perfumes since January 1, 2021. That is about a third of all new perfume released during the same time frame. The list below is the best 5.6% of those I got to try. As you see in the title it has expanded a bit from the usual Top 25. I found that when I looked back, I had a tight list of 35 I was pleased with. I decided to make them all worthy of the main list with no Honorable Mentions this time around.
The Top 10 (Perfume of the Year candidates)
10, Diptyque Kyoto– The best of the four perfumes in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the brand. The magic of beetroot, and perfumer Alexandra Carlin turns this into a stunning fragrance.
4, Puredistance No. 12– Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos told me to give perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer’s perfume time to mature. When it did a magnificent powdery chypre was there to enjoy.
3. Rubini Nuvolari– Andrea Rubini and his creative team including perfumer Cristiano Canali take you for a drive on an F1 track all the way through the checkered flag.
2. Amouage Material– Creative director Renaud Salmon and perfumer Cecile Zarokian turn in the most audacious gourmand of the year using the tritest of ingredients, vanilla. By turning it inside out and back again they define something entirely new.
1. Amouage Silver Oud– All the reasons are in yesterday’s Perfume of the Year post. The short version: M. Salmon and Mme Zarokian made me care about oud again.
The Rest of the Top 35 in Alphabetical Order
Aesop Eremia– The apocalypse has never seemed so appealing.
Quantity versus quality is an eternal dichotomy. When it came to deciding these top categories for the year I was constantly faced with this dilemma. I ended up choosing two based on the quality of a couple perfumes and two from an impressive body of work. If you look at the runners-up you will see the choices I wrestled with.
Perfume of the Year: Amouage Silver Oud– Prior to this year I was over oud in perfumery. It was too often cloaked in PR nonsense. It was a cynical play to convince consumers there was something worth the price they were paying. Silver Oud from Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon and perfumer Cecile Zarokian deconstructed everything about oud as used in Western perfumery.
They created a fragrance of three accords. One was the typical oud accord present in most commercial perfumes. It contains no oud. Mme Zarokian made a more interesting version of it by using better materials, but it was still not the real thing. The heart is where the real Laotian oud shows up paired with a resinous vanilla from Madagascar. This is what oud can be. This oddly semi-gourmand version is not one of the more common pairings. The final accord is a smoked amber which usually stands alone as a simulacrum of oud. Given the foundation of genuine oud it provided a fascinating resonance that made this amazing. Ever since this arrived, I have enjoyed allowing it to show different shadings of oud to me. This has engaged my nose and my mind more than any other perfume this year.
Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Ever since 2013 this award was an inevitability. When I tried Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, Mme Zarokian showed me she was an independent perfumer to keep an eye on. She has confirmed that assessment year after year. I was waiting for that moment when it all came together, 2021 was it.
She made two perfumes for Amouage which are among my Top 2 perfumes of the year. You see that Silver Oud is one of them. The other is Amouage Material. Mme Zarokian has been the most adventurous in expanding what we think of as a gourmand perfume. She has taken every opportunity to create new space within the genre. Material takes the tritest of gourmand ingredients, vanilla and wraps it in a series of complementary notes which illuminate it in a wonderfully different way. She does the same thing for oud in Silver Oud.
I also considered Nathalie Feisthauer who will figure prominently in the Top 25 and Cristiano Canali who made two brilliant perfumes. Mme Zarokian is my choice for Perfumer of the Year because both Material and Silver Oud were genius level examples of perfume construction.
Runners-Up: Francesca Bianchi, Cristiano Canali, Nathalie Feisthauer, David Falsberg, and Anne Flipo.
Creative Director of the Year: Thibaud Crivelli, Maison Crivelli– It would have been easy to keep the Amouage award train running and naming M. Salmon to this honor. Except I have been having a discussion with a perfume friend about the role of creative director. How much do they have to do with the perfume that ends up being released? I am a believer that the best of them is critical to the long-term success. One way I can approach it is by asking this question, is the aesthetic of the brand retained through different perfumers. In other words, if I think a brand is doing great work and the only constant is the creative director that should indicate something.
When Thibaud Crivelli began Maison Crivelli he openly stated he wanted to create a fragrance collection of textures. Over eleven releases he has worked with eight different perfumers to deliver exactly that. 2021 has seen Osmanthe Kodoshan, Lys Solaberg, and Hibiscus Mahajad. Perfumers Stephanie Bakouche, Nathalie Feisthauer, and Quentin Bisch produced gorgeously textural wonders at M. Crivelli’s direction. This is what makes him my Creative Director of the Year for 2021.
Runners-Up: Christian Astuguevieille of Comme des Garcons, Myriam Badault of Diptyque, Alessandro Brun of Masque Milano and Milano Fragranze, Renaud Salmon of Amouage, and Victor Wong of Zoologist.
Brand of the Year: Diptyque– This year was the 60th anniversary of this brand. Creative director Myriam Badault was going to make sure it would not pass with a whimper. Instead, she oversaw a perfume selection beginning with Orpheon paying homage to the founders. Ilio as a reminder of the summery style this brand does so well. She finished the year with Kyoto and Venise which laid down a marker that this 60-year-old still has some innovative life left in it.
Runners-Up: Amouage, Maison Crivelli, Milano Fragranze, Zara, and Zoologist.
A year ago, I thought things might have been more normal by this time. Instead, 2021 has been like 2020 in that the usual ways of doing fragrance business pre-pandemic have been altered. I was able to try 621 new perfumes this calendar year. I want to thank all the people out there who make that number possible. I haven’t set foot in a store this year. The brands and stores I correspond with were almost always forthcoming in getting samples to me. I couldn’t go out into the world, but it showed up in my mailbox daily. That was because of these behind-the-scenes people. Nothing that I wrote about this year would have been possible without them.
There will not be a lot of things I’ll want to keep from these last two years. One of them is the direct communication with the brands. Without all the normal large perfume expositions the Internet took their place. Teleconferences announcing new launches allowed for the entire creative team to be present for a worldwide audience. There were a couple weeks at the beginning of the fall when I had one every other day. It allows the word to be spread much more widely than in the past. I hope it continues long after. The best version was the Masque Milano/Milano Fragranze/Malbrum Advent Calendar. Every day from December 1st through the 25th a short video on Instagram Live discussed what was in the daily box. The creative directors and perfumers all took time out of their Holidays to take part. There is even more potential for this kind of interaction going forward.
The biggest news of the year was the changing of the guard at Dior perfume. Francis Kurkdjian takes over from Francois Demachy. I am hoping M. Kurkdjian injects some sorely needed relevancy back into this esteemed brand.
If there is something I hope fades quickly it is the idea of “clean” perfumes. This doesn’t mean clean smelling perfumes. It is the anti-science snake oil being pushed by some brands which insist that perfume is dangerous unless it is “clean”. There is no evidence that anything in any commercially released perfumes is dangerous. Anyone who tells you differently is also trying to sell you something, which is almost always an indication of the validity of the claim.
An unfortunate trend that has returned is the ghosting of perfumers again. Brands want to have their owners/creative directors act as if they are also the perfumers. This practice effectively ended in 2000 with Frederic Malle putting the names of the perfumers front and center on the labels of every Editions de Parfums. I don’t think they can successfully put the ghost back in the bottle. I am going to make sure that I reveal the perfumers name every time I find out, especially if they don’t want me to.
One of the trends this year was a re-thinking about the ubiquitous inclusion of oud in perfumes. I thought at the beginning of the year I was over oud the way I am for rose. This year saw several fragrances use it in traditional ways employing the real thing. Others finally used the wide array of tools at their disposal to think of oud in the same abstract way any other natural material has been translated into perfume. 2021 has me excited for the future of oud.
One thing I enjoyed a lot was pointing people to the outstanding modestly priced perfumes being sold at Zara. Jo Malone, Jerome Epinette, and Alberto Morillas did fantastic work for the brand. It is the best kept secret at the mall. To have a place to tell newly enthusiastic perfume lovers to go have fun in, made me smile. Which is what any year of fragrance should be about.
I’ll be back tomorrow with my perfume, perfumer, creative director, and brand of the year. Followed by my Top 25 new perfumes of 2021 the day after that. I hope you’ll follow along.
For as long as I’ve been writing about perfume I have believed it to be an art form. This is a position I have to defend because of the sheer commercialism behind most manufactured fragrance. The advent of independent perfumery has allowed for fragrance to find places to shed the commerce in search of the truth that art points to. Over the last twenty years there have been more and more opportunities for scent to be seen through an artistic lens. The latest effort is called DIS- connect.
DIS- connect is a collaboration between Design Artist Francesca Gotti, Photographic Artist Francesco Romero, and Perfume Artist Omer Ipecki. Sig.ra Gotti is one of my favorite people I have ever met in perfumery. I have only met her a handful of times when I have been at the Italian fragrance expos. She creates sculptural enclosures for fragrance. Sig. Romero and I have never met but we have shared the perfume blogosphere for many years. I have been struck by his photography many times. Mr. Ipecki is the independent perfumer behind the brand Pekji. When we met in NYC his passion for life was obvious, he has turned that into scent.
These three wanted to create an exhibit where all three of the disciplines would come together. Except a worldwide pandemic got in the way. Speaking with Mr. Ipecki he said, “it really was meant to be an exhibit, an immersive experience. But now, aptly, they are all disconnected from each other.” This has resulted in a group of three pieces from each of them. A book of photographs by Sig. Romero, three scents by Mr. Ipecki, and a container to hold the perfume in by Sig.ra Gotti.
Since March I have been enjoying all of this in my own version of an “immersive experience”. I downloaded all the photos from the accompanying Instagram page onto a thumb drive which I streamed to my large TV. I was given the music playlist that inspired each piece of the exhibit. That was coming from the speakers. I sprayed myself with 20 sprays of each perfume. At the same time I have some samples of the material Glebanite which Sig.ra Gotti gifted to me. I had those in my hand twirling and flipping the pieces I had. I spent one day like this with each of the scents. As I watched the images flash by, I looked for the ones which came close to what I was feeling. The Glebanite revealed itself to me as I was within each sphere of fragrance. The music took me to a place where all these things had the space to make their mark.
Photo: Franceso Romero
DIS- 1: Decay
Music: The Trail of Tears by William Basinski
As I sat watching pictures while wearing DIS- 1 I began to think about the process of decay. It begins at the moment of inception. The rates are different, but the black balloon begins to fill. At the same time we build the mound of our life. As it gets higher, we get closer to meeting that growing orb of decay. Glebanite if you look at it seems like solid stone. Then you pick it up. It is as if the stone has hollowed itself out. An unlikely source of entropy.
The keynote of the fragrance is a CO2 extract of costus. Costus has always suggested the funk of putridity. Mr. Ipecki uses that as he weaves through it the pleasantness of jasmine, angelica, and saffron. That’s the good. The weight of the blackness descending comes with castoreum and a plastic doll head version of vanilla. The costus is the encroaching end but the things worth living for are still present.
Photo: Francesco Romero
Music: Infinite Abstract by Erik Truffaz
The greatest sense of separation comes through the concrete edifices we have built. DIS- 2 seeks to emulate that pushback the solid walls we have built have created. This is where the look of the Glebanite is paramount as it represents these monoliths. The feel of it, the lightness recalls the fragility of these barriers. If we only have the courage to bring them down, the taxi is waiting to take us away.
Mr. Ipecki uses an amount of galbanum meant to confront to make one want to separate. It gets sharper from there violet, synthetic musks all put up their own concrete walls which make me want to turn away. Mr. Ipecki chooses to provide no relief. There is not a safe ingredient to hang on to. This is meant to drive a wedge.
Photo: Francesco Romero
DIS- 3: Paradox
Music: Stave Peak by Loscil
If you are truly disconnected there is a point where you begin to crave what is missing. The togetherness of yourself and the world. You can’t live inside your own head forever. You have to eventually step out. when that happens the antithesis of it all comes to be as everything crashes together in a big, concentrated pile. Which just might send you back to solitude. Grabbing for the faux-solidity of the Glebanite to leverage yourself away. Yet for one glorious moment the crush of the world is pleasing, until it isn’t.
Which is exactly how DIS-3 plays out. It seems like the closest to a typical independent perfume. It begins with a swirl of smokiness through nagarmotha and the floral rosiness of geranium. Patchouli and vetiver also seem like part of the wider world of perfumery. You are back where it is pleasant, it is normal. Then camphor upends it all. It drives those pleasant ingredients into hiding for a moment as it is all you smell. Over time they come back but they seem warier as if a glance from the camphor will send them running.
When I spoke to Mr. Ipecki he asked me if I found a relationship to everything. I told him they might be disconnected but they felt like they were in the same gravitational field. As I spent my time in my immersive experience, I realized gravity wasn’t the physical theory that described this, chaos theory was. Particularly one of my favorite parts of it, strange attractors. That says despite the desire of objects to want to stay apart they can’t help but be attracted to each other if only for an instant. The larger the differences the more interesting the moment of interaction. Throughout my time I would find the music and the perfume or the Glebanite and the picture holding my attention. The other pieces had flown away. Only to return to create new attractions.
As we emerge from a true DIS- connected event a reminder that we all can find out own strange attractors seems appropriate.
Disclosure: The perfumes were provided by Mr. Ipecki. The photos are all courtesy of Mr. Romero. The Glebanite was a gift from Sig.ra Gotti. The music courtesy of Spotify.
Those of us who love perfume have a story of where it began. As I’ve related in other stories of my life much of my appreciation of fragrance began with my mother. She was the opposite of me in that she only wore two fragrances, Guerlain Mitsouko and Guerlain Shalimar in the Eau de Cologne concentration. Her vanity always had the round bull’s-eye bottles with the green or red dot at the center.
She was a working mother. I was the only one of my friends who had a mother who worked outside of the home. Wearing her perfume was part of her daily attire. I knew she was out of the shower and getting dressed because the scent of one of her perfumes would reach the breakfast table. I knew I had to finish soon because she was almost ready to leave. I would be rinsing out my cereal dish only to have her hug me in a Guerlain embrace. There was a security in it that a child could rely upon.
There were days a little would rub off on me. It always made me feel as if Mom was with me even though she had dropped me off. The scent of Mitsouko or Shalimar has been synonymous with her my entire life.
As she tuned into her son’s interest in perfume, she always reminded me that she only wore two things. While I often responded I wore two things in a day. We had a fabulous fragrant field trip to a Guerlain boutique near her home in Florida.
I had pulled some of the few strings I have to make an appointment for us. I really wanted her to experience the other versions of her favorites. They were ready for us. We had iced tea and every concentration of Shalimar and Mitsouko was sniffed. It is one of my favorite memories. Between the sales representative and I we spun all the history of these two pillars of my mother’s perfumed life.
After all of this what made me laugh with delight was she still preferred her Eau de Cologne versions best. My mother knew what she liked. As I drove her back to her house, she asked me whether I ever wore them. I smiled at her and said I couldn’t they were her scent. I told her Freud would have a field day with me if I did.
A few years ago I heard the phrase “Guerlie Girl” to represent a woman who wore Guerlain. It immediately stuck to my mother in my mind. Earlier this week, a few days short of her 99th birthday she passed away. There wasn’t much perfume wearing these last few years. I imagine that my Guerlie Girl is sitting on a scented cloud. Happy to have her perfumes back in her life.
Now that we have 20 years into the new century there is the opportunity for some perspective when looking back. The independent and niche perfume areas really exploded into growth just after we crossed Y2K. The first five years of this new era were where the rules were being written. Brands weren’t trying to find their way to the mall. They were trying to find their way to the aficionado. The ones who wanted more than function from perfume. This was a good description of myself at this time. I was eagerly absorbing as much information as I could.
One part of that was trying to understand the ingredients which went into these perfumes. Like most my classroom was experiential. Through the forums I was collating my experience with others. One of the best ways I was able to learn came through one of those audacious gambles being taken then. Perfumer Geza Schoen would release Molecule 01 in 2005. It was just a single ingredient, the synthetic aromachemical Iso E Super. It was paired with another perfume where that synthetic ingredient was featured in a more traditional perfume called Escentric 01. This has been repeated with four other Molecules and led to four Escentrics to go with them.
Of all of them Molecule 01 has been the breakout star. It has been a perennial bestseller wherever it is sold. The reason is by itself it has a unique scent profile. It is one of those ingredients which creates a different scent profile and effect depending on its concentration. At 100% it is a wearable perfume all by itself.
Now sixteen years later Hr. Schoen is releasing a new set of perfumes called Escentric Molecules M+. The idea is to add another keynote to see how Iso E Super interacts with it. I had the pleasure a couple weeks ago of speaking with Hr. Schoen about these new fragrances.
Because he is also a trained organic chemist like me, I have always jokingly called him Herr Professor Doktor when he is teaching us through the Molecule and Escentric releases. About halfway through our conversation he said something which really encapsulated why Iso E Super has been so influential.
We were talking about the other Molecules and if any of those would be a candidate for this kind of effort. This was when he hit on something which resonated with me so strongly. He said, “It is the perfect basic kind of soup stock to cook the best soup with ever.”
Before we got to that he described how this all came about. It started with his partner Sophie asking him to make her a nice perfume from her favorite ingredient, iris. He thought it would go nice with Iso E Super and made that up for her to wear. She started getting asked what she was wearing. Even Hr. Schoen was able to know when she was nearby through the sillage she trailed behind her. It started with a lovely home meal made for a loved one by Chef Schoen.
He would come to realize there might be some other confections to be realized. He headed back into the kitchen to see what he would find. He told me he tried around a dozen different ingredients looking for the same synergy he found with iris. He mentioned that vanilla was “horrible”. That cake fell flat.
Over the time in the test kitchen he would find there were two ingredients which made the best recipes. They are mandarin and patchouli. The difference between all three of these perfumes Molecule 01 + Iris, or Mandarin, or Patchouli is they are a binary creation of Iso E Super and the plus. These aren’t as complex as Escentric 01. That seems like the entrée in retrospect. The three plus ones are more the courses leading up to it.
All three of these new fragrances are remarkably wearable. There is something compelling about the way Iso E Super acts within a perfume. I am going to review all three of Chef Schoen’s perfumes tomorrow. Each of them will illustrate why Molecule 01 produces “the best soup ever.”
To keep this list in perspective, I tried 634 new perfumes since January 1, 2020. That is about a third of all new releases. Nobody can try them all. I enjoy the winnowing down to produce this list. I usually make the hard decisions on which perfumes make the Top 25 without resorting to ties or other ways of expanding the list. Except 2020 presented me with a dilemma like no other. After struggling with how to resolve it I just thought I’d come up with a fun way of recognizing the problem. The list is going to start off with a new one-time only award.
Perfume Queen of 2020: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes– The pandemic affected the industry in such variable ways. In Ms. Hurwitz’s case it was the catalyst to a year of remarkable creativity. She released 32 new perfumes this year. I reviewed eight and I’m only hitting 25% just on her. She has always been prolific, but this year there was an extra inspiration in her collection. In my case she connected with me on an emotional level more consistently than anyone ever has. Read my reviews of Tea and Charcoal, Adrenaline and Scorched Earth, or Couverture d’Hiver to find examples. Her years of experience also translate into a familiarity with certain materials like iris. She released an Iris Trilogy of which I reviewed L’Or(ris) and Man Root. I never got around to writing about her Frida Kahlo inspired set or any of her Heirloom Elixirs. Each of them was worthy of it but it would have turned this blog into “DSH-onoisseur”. So consider this a cheat as you won’t find these perfumes in the list below, but they surely do belong. For 2020 DSH has her own category.
The Top 10 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)
10. Amouage Meander– Young perfumer Mackenzie Reilly showed she could be one of the new noses for the new Amouage under creative director Renaud Salmon.
9. Frassai El Descanso– Creative director Natalia Outeda releases a series of perfumes of her native Argentina. This fragrance of wide-open wheat fields is like nothing else this year.
8. Puredistance Rubikona- Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos wanted a perfume expression of red. Perfumer Cecile Zarokian made one with a faux-gourmand accord in the base which was amazing.
7. Hiram Green Vivacious– Hiram Green has added violet to his impressive collection of all-natural florals. Another standout from a line replete with them.
6. Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine– Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi asked perfumer Fanny Bal to create their favorite Paris tearoom as a perfume. She returned a confection with a tuberose center.
5. Rasei Fort Cielito Lindo– Rasei Fort laid down an audacious marker to the best gourmand of 2020 early on. Nobody risked more within the genre. Nobody reaped the rewards of taking those chances more.
4. Aftelier Violet Ambrosia– Mandy Aftel adds violet to an aged version of broom flower. The result is like nothing I’ve tried featuring this floral.
3. April Aromatics Lotus Rising– Tanja Bochnig also broke out her special materials with two sources of aged lotus. It formed the lushest floral of the year.
After yesterday’s broad overview, in Part 2 I get very specific naming the best of the year in four categories.
Perfume of the Year: Shalini Iris Lumiere– One of the joys of writing about perfume for over a decade is I’ve been able to watch brands develop. My favorite is when a creative director and long-time collaborator find that magic moment when all their hard work produces a transcendent perfume. Shalini has been making fragrance since 2004. In 2020 it made my Perfume of the Year, Shalini Iris Lumiere.
Iris Lumiere is the fifth perfume from fashion designer Shalini and master perfumer Maurice Roucel. I have enjoyed the other four releases a lot. Iris Lumiere took a quantum leap over those. It achieved that by showing me a different version of iris. As mentioned yesterday I write a lot about the powdery or rooty nature of the ingredient. Iris Lumiere showed me something I had never experienced before, an intensely greener version.
It has always been one of M. Roucel’s strengths to find new ways to showcase well-known ingredients. His choice to use galbanum and muguet as green interrogators of orris formed something captivating. It was if a fresh green rhizome had been harvested with moisture dripping off it. Months away from being the dried version we are familiar with. By using the overdose of galbanum it creates a sparkling set of jeweled facets among the irises. The final piece is to shine silvery moonlight on it using frankincense. M. Roucel has been making perfume for decades this is among his best perfumes ever and not just the Perfume of the Year for 2020.
Perfumer of the Year: Maurice Roucel– It was clear to me heading into the fall that my Perfumer of the Year was going to have the initials MR. Throughout the year it seemed like Maurice Roucel and Mackenzie Reilly kept having a competition in my head. They both worked creatively across every sector. What tipped the balance is M. Roucel did make my Perfume of the Year.
I could’ve written a similar resume for Ms. Reilly as her year was also impressive. They say you are judged by who it is you competed against. M. Roucel was pushed all year by one of the most impressive new perfumers we have. In 2020 it was the old master who is the Perfumer of the Year.
Runner-Ups: Fanny Bal, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Josh Meyer, Mackenzie Reilly, and Cecile Zarokian.
Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong, Zoologist Perfumes– There is no better story in independent perfumery than that of Victor Wong and his Zoologist Perfumes brand. 2019 was an extraordinary year for Mr. Wong including Squid being named the Fragrance Foundation Perfume Extraordinaire at this year’s awards. He entered 2020 with a dilemma. He chose to re-invent one of the flagship perfumes of the brand with a new perfumer. The 2020 version of Bat shows why I hold Mr. Wong in such high esteem. Working with perfumer Prin Lomros they created a different species of bat as the environment was shifted from cave to jungle. It was every bit as enjoyable. He would follow-up with three new releases Sloth, Koala, and Musk Deer. The latter is an expectation shattering take on musk. It is that ability to take chances that makes Mr. Wong my Creative Director of the Year for 2020.
Runner-Ups: Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano, Carlos Kusubayashi of A Lab on Fire, Natalia Outeda of Frassai, Renaud Salmon of Amouage, and Celine Verleure of Olfactive Studio.
Brand of the Year: Masque Milano– Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are always looking for ways to evolve their successful enterprise. In 2020 this involved creating a new collection called Le Donne di Masque. They re-invented the first two releases of Petra and Dolceaqua before adding Madeleine at the end of the year. This provides a new way of looking at Masque Milano. Just to make sure we didn’t forget the old way Ray-Flection joined the Opera collection. This was another fantastic year for one of the premier brands in artistic perfumery which is why they are Brand of the Year for 2020.
Runner-Ups: Amouage, DSH Perfumes, Frassai, Imaginary Authors, and Zoologist.
That 2020 has been an unusual year would be an understatement. None of the fragrance expos. No trips to NYC for perfume events. Instead it turned out to be a different kind of exploration. I’ve been hovering around 650-700 new perfumes tried every year since I started Colognoisseur nearly seven years ago. If you asked me in May if I would be close to that I would’ve been skeptical. Yet when I look at the last line on my 2020 spreadsheet the number reads 634.
One of the reasons it is close to a normal year is I reached out to some new lines for samples. Over the course of the year I was able to delve into new independent perfumers; Jorum Studios, Libertine, Baruti, Christele Jacquemin, and Chronotope. It was a great experience which allowed me to see developing aesthetics in one piece. It was brands like these which provided that fun of finding something new which usually comes from Esxence or Pitti.
One of the trends that seemed to expand dramatically was that of reviewers becoming creative directors of their own perfumes. Most of these were as cynical as the mainstream releases using focus groups to design their fragrances. They just tried to decide what their readers/subscribers liked best based on measured response and made something to reflect that. That’s just a focus group in a different costume. There is a fantastic template for anyone serious about doing this. Just look at Victor Wong of Zoologist. He has gone from Facebook to the Fragrance Foundation Perfume Extraordinaire Award this year. He makes perfumes he likes while trusting there is an audience. So far, he has been right.
Renaud Salmon of Amouage
Amouage went through a big change as new creative director Renaud Salmon took charge. Over the course of the last half of the year M. Salmon reassured me that this important brand is going to do well as it moves in a different direction. I believe it will continue to be one of the key creative brands in perfumery.
This was also a year for some truly odd accords for perfumes to be built upon. One which repeated over and over was the scent of horse. Maison D’Etto’s entire collection is based on horses from creative director Brianna Lipovsky’s life. Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach and Sarah Baker Bascule also brought some thoroughbreds to the party.
Wet cardboard was the centerpiece of Nez 1+1 Folia. Clay pottery formed the nucleus of Jazmin Sarai Fayoum. Freddie Albrighton and Antonio Gardoni challenged me with one of the most difficult fragrances of the year in Douleur!2. It walks right on the edge of unpleasant, which was its intent.
The gourmand style of perfume continues to evolve as 2020 was bookended by Rasei Fort Cielito Lindo and Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine. Both finding a new level for the genre.
If there was one thing I realized as I was looking back over the year I must have written a riff on the following a lot this year. “The dual nature of iris as both powdery and rooty was on display”. 2020 is the year of iris. It is also the year of great iris perfumes as you will see as I unveil the list of the best of the year.
I also want to close this overview with a thanks to everyone on the perfume side who assisted me in getting perfume sent to me. I may not have left the house, but the world of perfume showed up on my doorstep daily.
My other thanks are to the readers of this blog. In this ridiculous year of uncertainty writing for you every day was one of the few bits of normalcy which remained for me. I cherish that you choose to share my passion for perfume by dropping by.
I’ll be back tomorrow with my picks for Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director and Brand of the Year. That will be followed by my Top 25 new perfumes of 2020.